FDNY, EMS assaults up 36% this year amid mental health crisis

Read this story in the New York Post

By Sara Dorn

The city’s mental health crisis is taking a physical toll on first responders, who are being attacked on the job more frequently by increasingly volatile patients.

Through October of this year, 146 EMTs, paramedics and firefighters were assaulted at work — a 36% higher rate than in 2018, when assaults totaled 129 for the entire year; and 27% higher than the rate in 2017, when 139 annual assaults were recorded. This is data the FDNY reported to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer.

The attack spike comes amid a two-fold increase in 911 calls seeking assistance for emotionally disturbed persons [EDPs] over the last decade — and as the city deals with a spate of killings involving mentally ill suspects.

“We have more frequent contact with them, and these people are not in their right state of mind, so of course we are the ones who suffer the consequences,” said Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507 representing EMTs and paramedics. “We’re the first contact they have when someone calls 911.”

City EMT Tina Upshur said she returned to her job with her “guard up” in September after a drunk patient kicked her in the jaw outside a Queens homeless shelter in July, leaving her with a loose tooth and whiplash.

“They had to end up sedating him. He was crazed,” said the 10-year veteran through tears. “I love what I do, and I just want there to be awareness. We are there to help people, not to get hurt and attacked.”

EMT Daniel Manning, 24, had surgery Wednesday to repair his fractured nose after a man high on PCP slugged him in a Bronx park on Oct. 25 while he was loading the patient into an ambulance.

“Once he started waking up and realized what we were doing, he became a little erratic … uncooperative,” Manning told The Post. “Next thing I know he is swinging a full haymaker punch, and he caught me with his right fist right on the bridge of my nose.”

Nine-months-pregnant EMT Darlene-Marie Miller ended up a patient at New York Presbyterian Hospital after a drunken man she had just delivered there shoved her into the registration desk on Nov. 1. Her baby was unscathed, but doctors diagnosed Miller with a torn labrum. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy three days later.

The EMS unions called for more training on how to deal with mentally unstable patients.

“We are trained on saving lives and treating people with serious medical conditions. We don’t have intensive training on people with psychological problems,” Barzilay said.

The union leaders said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most recent fix for the city’s mental health crisis — a $37 million initiative that includes mental health professionals responding to 911 calls alongside emergency services workers — is “more wasteful spending.”

“When you have an EDP situation, EMS and police are going to respond. They have to. So why would you create a third agency? You should train the EMTs you already have,” said Vincent Variale, president of Local 3621, the EMS officers union.

FDNY spokesman Dwyer said: “The department has made an effort to raise greater awareness (both internally and externally) amongst members and encouraged and emphasized reporting of assaults against our members.” The agency has also issued a video reminding people that assaulting a first responder is punishable by seven years in prison.

But first responders see a disturbing disdain for authority growing on the city’s streets.

“In our city, there is no respect for nobody,” said Barzilay. “Police officers are getting assaulted. MTA workers are getting assaulted. EMS, EMTs and paramedics are getting assaulted. Our city is spiraling down to a point of no return.” 

Assaults on both EMS workers and firefighters on the rise: